When Pacifist Japan Fights: Historicizing Desires in Anime
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When Pacifist Japan Fights:
Historicizing Desires in Anime

This essay proposes a critical history of fantasy. By that, I mean locating meanings, ambiguities, and possibilities of desires between the text (the anime) and the context (history). Every fantasy is based on desires, and so is Japanese anime fantasy. Instead of focusing on the anime creator's intention or techniques, I seek to treat the anime as a historical text that needs to be contextualized yet embodies context within itself. Desires are conceived here as multiple, since every historical text speaks of not just one but multiple, sometimes conflicting, desires.

Desires are also historical. I discuss Space Battleship Yamato (1977, Uchū senkan Yamato) and Silent Service (1995, Chinmoku no kantai) because they allow us to analyze cold war and post–cold war desires of Japan. Central to both anime is Yamato, the Japanese Imperial Navy's battleship. The largest battleship ever built, Yamato was the pride of the Imperial Navy but was sunk by the United States in 1945 without contributing much to the Japanese war effort. The two films are quite different. Space Battleship Yamato is Japan's first animated space opera on TV, fitting well into the category of fantasy fiction with alien attacks and sci-fi weapons; Silent Service is explicitly a political commentary whose story takes place within an earthly geopolitical setting [End Page 104] without imaginary beings and technology. Yet both Space Battleship Yamato and Silent Service invoke nostalgia, glory, and an alternative reality by utilizing the image of Yamato. Both films, with lengthy battle scenes, deal with a fantasy of postwar Japan where the pacifist constitution renounces war. And both deal with complex desires for peace, the right to fight, to defend the nation, to determine the nation's own course, when Japan's peace, defense, and future are in many ways in the hands of the world hegemonist, the United States. Shifting political environments before and after the cold war set the stage differently for these desires to be played out in the two anime.

As my analysis demonstrates, these desires are highly gendered. The two anime, read as historical texts, reflect and contain the historical contexts of Japan's feminized position vis-à-vis the United States. Japan's pacifist constitution furthermore complicates how Japan copes with this feminization. Considering the strong connection that scholars and activists have found between masculinity and war, on the one hand, and between femininity and peace, on the other, how postwar Japan's masculinity has been negotiated with constitutional pacifism is an interesting yet underexamined question.1 My reading of cold war anime and post–cold war anime below illuminates the shifting ambivalence and tensions around national and masculine desires of pacifist Japan.

When Pacifist Japan Fights in Space: Space Battleship Yamato and Japan's Cold War

Often considered as the beginning point of the golden age of Japanese anime, Space Battleship Yamato marked the transition from giant robot superhero to more elaborate space operas in the late 1970s.2 The immensely popular story of Yamato is dramatic yet simple. In the year 2199, a mysterious alien empire, the Gamilus, attacks earth. The radioactive bombs of the Gamilus render earth uninhabitable for humans and drive them underground. The earth's only hope is Yamato, a space battleship equipped with a faster-than-light engine and a powerful "wave-motion gun." Yamato's mission is to go to Planet Iscandar to receive a device, the Cosmo Cleaner, that can clean earth's radiation-polluted air. Th rough challenging yet victorious battles with Gamilus fleets across the galaxy, Yamato saves the human race from annihilation. Besides this simple, apocalyptic narrative of a crusade against evil, which is very much a cold war narrative, the details and tensions in this anime make it fascinating to discuss and to read, ultimately, as a cold war text (Figure 1). [End Page 105]

While the story takes place in a distant future, the anime makes sure that the viewer knows the Yamato's origin. At the beginning of the film (and in the second episode of the TV series), the viewer is informed, through the narrator, of the magnificence of Yamato...